Finding Families: A Foster Care and Adoption Initiative

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Foster care and adoption placement has become the latest front in the culture war.  Loving couples who want nothing more than to foster a child in need of a home have been turned away, sometimes while being told that they are less than. Religious social services agencies have been told they cannot any longer serve according to their faith—that allowing them to assist with foster care and adoption would be tantamount to giving them a state-funded “license to discriminate.”

Yet both outcomes—couples being turned away and agencies being told to close—are tragic.

Children do not belong in the culture war.

Instead, we need policies that keep all hands on deck.  That is:

  • Every loving couple that can care for children should be able to do so without being humiliated.

  • Every one of the agencies that help make this happen by drawing families forward to foster, including the religious agencies, should remain in the marketplace doing the important work they do for children.

We should be able to affirm both principles by placing families in the driver’s seat.

But as this map shows, lawmakers and policymakers around the country have adopted laws that seek to avoid only one of these devastating results—no couple is turned away or no agency can be forced to close—with little thought for the other value at stake. 

 

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Far better would be to affirm both principles.  We have a model for doing this that has worked though five different Presidential administrations:  the Child Care and Development Block Grant Program.  Under this program, families that qualify financially for childcare for their children receive a certificate that they can use at the provider that best fits their needs and the needs of their child—whether that provider is a Montessori school, a Lutheran day school, the child’s grandmother, and so on. 

Rather than the state picking winners and losers and forcing everyone through those agencies, we should borrow a page from this tried-and-true approach.  After all, families ready to foster should be the one to choose the agency — religious or secular — that works best for them, just as families seeking childcare services do now.

Couples would be spared the humiliation of being rejected by agencies picked by and paid for by the state.  At the same time, faith-based agencies would remain in the marketplace to do what they do best, such as recruiting families in faith communities to adopt and foster children.

In this model, the funding follows the family. It’s not the agency that’s rejecting prospective parents, but the parents who choose the agency. Some families may choose LGBT friendly agencies, some may choose agencies that specialize in certain kinds of placements (like siblings), and some may choose faith-based organizations.  All can play a unique role recruiting and energizing potential adoptive families who share their values.  Each agency can contribute a special focus and expertise to the state’s lineup of foster care programs.

Modernizing our antiquated funding structure for foster care services would have an additional benefit:  it should result in more agencies available to meet the needs of big and small communities across the country. Today’s antiquated funding structure favors large agencies that can bear the high upfront costs associated with identifying and recruiting families.  Distributing this work to a larger number of providers not only gives families greater diversity when finding the right agency for them, it will ease the “chokepoint” that has made it difficult for LGBT couples and others to take children into their care.

For more perspectives on what is at stake, see:

Every child deserves a permanent, loving home. It is time to rethink how we have structured foster care and adoption services so that we avoid clashes that hurt everyone involved, not least of which are the children the system is designed to protect.